How Randy Gradishar learned he was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Feb 9, 2024, 12:22 AM | Updated: 12:22 am
LAS VEGAS — Randy Gradishar spent a 10-year playing his career ambushing opposing ballcarriers, quarterbacks and receivers.
In recent weeks, the ambush came at ol’ No. 53.
“Well, I was tricked by the Denver Broncos,” he told me Thursday night.
“I got a call from somebody from the Broncos, and they said, ‘Greg and Carrie (Walton) Penner would like to talk to you and find out more about the Orange Crush. No mention about Hall of Fame or anything.”
Know this: The Penners seek out information voraciously. They leave no stone unturned in wanting to learn every precise detail about the team they purchased in 2022.
So, this wasn’t an unfathomable ruse. It actually was quite within the realm of reality for them to summon Randy Gradishar for such a meeting.
“I’m not going to say to the owners, ‘I’m not coming,’ so I said, ‘My wife, Beth, and I would be glad to come and visit with you, and I’ll help you understand a little bit why the Orange Crush was so good.’”
But then Randy and Beth Gradishar had a second thought.
“Maybe they’re calling to tell me that I didn’t get into the Hall of Fame, because they were being polite and saying, ‘Well, Randy, we’re sorry you didn’t make it,” Gradishar recalled thinking.
And here’s the rub: As we learned Thursday night whilst at Resorts World on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, it was decidedly not a fait accompli that Gradishar’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame would pass through without pause.
How Randy Gradishar found out he was headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame …
It’s a tale that involves Broncos owners Greg Penner and Carrie Walton Penner, some subterfuge and two legendary Broncos Ring of Famers: pic.twitter.com/xhYHHebooe
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) February 9, 2024
THERE WAS SOME DOUBT FOR RANDY GRADISHAR
And the evidence is there in the cases of Art Powell and Buddy Parker.
Powell was one of this year’s three Seniors Committee nominations, along with Gradishar and long-time Chicago Bears defensive tackle Steve McMichael. A wide receiver with five AFL and NFL teams between 1959 and 1968, he twice led the AFL in receiving yardage and touchdown catches. And in six of his eight AFL seasons, he was either a first- or second-team all-league selection.
Parker was the coach/contributor nominee. He guided the Detroit Lions to back-to-back NFL championships in 1952 and 1953.
Their cases weren’t enough. They fell short of the 80-percent threshold from the wider selection committee to earn induction. Powell became the first seniors-committee nominee rejected in a traditional class in 15 years.
It could have happened to Gradishar, too.
Fortunately, it didn’t. But there was still a little more subterfuge in play.
“We did meet with Greg and Carrie, sharing a little bit about Broncos stuff,” Gradishar said. “Greg got up and said ‘Well, let’s go to this room.’ And I said, ‘OK.’”
And they walked in to the sight of cameras and luminaries. Steve Atwater was there. So was Sean Payton. And Ring of Famers Billy Thompson and Tom Jackson — two of the most beloved teammates Randy Gradishar had — awaited him, too.
“It finally sunk into my brain that I’m in!” Gradishar said.
“I’ve been only waiting a couple of years to do this,” Gradishar deadpanned.
He’s the first member of the famed “Orange Crush” defense to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He hopes he won’t be the last.
“I’m just hoping and praying that that Orange Crush defense — or that team, certainly — will be considered more recognizable in having the opportunity to go in, similar to the Steel Curtain guys and all that,” Gradishar said.
“I’m hoping and praying that leads to some other guys getting in the Hall of Fame.”
Time will tell.
But the Orange Crush now has its place in the Hall of Fame. Even if the Broncos had to ambush its leader to let him know the happy news.